A Whale of a Tale

If you’ve read around here for any length of time, surely you guessed I’d be touching on the next book? Moby Dick, by Herman Melville is still one of my all-time favorite stories. We call my dad “Ahab” for a reason, you know. 

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Plumbing the depths- whether of the ocean, a whale, or the human psyche – is what this story was all about, for me. I can’t remember if I devoured this book in high school or college, but it had me hook, line, and sinker! And that opening line is iconic, “Call me Ishmael…” (Although, that line doesn’t come until after the first two “Introductory” chapters.)

The character names were fascinating. Upon moving to New England after college, I began learning the backstory on some of Melville’s name choices. The name of the boat, Pequod, for example, became a sad revelation to me.

This book also confirmed, in my mind, that there are limits to human knowledge. You can only see so far into the ocean. You can only understand what you can see and hear about a person, but never really the whole of their heart.

And then, we only know what we think we do.

One of my favorite quotes, though, is this:

“See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.”

Indeed.

Having to share a room at an inn with a stranger, a foreign-stranger with tattoos every which way, no less, Ishmael’s initial prejudice towards Queequeg changes as he comes to know this loyal and generous man. Let’s just forget that he was a former cannibal, kay?

I live, though, as if I were second mate, Stubb, who said:

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

That reminds me of a Proverb in the Bible:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”

May it ever be true of me!

As I neared the end of Moby Dick and Ahab’s pending death became obvious, I felt compassion for him. I identified with this man’s willingness to throw everything he was into what he deemed important. Unfortunately, that included the crew aboard his boat.

I know how that goes.

Crusty captain seeks vengeance on ever elusive white whale to the detriment of all that go with him.

Oh Ahab

He did as humans do: we make mistakes.

And we pick up the pieces as we move along from them.

Sometimes, in the form of others.

Yes indeedy.

I can honestly say I didn’t think I’d have all that much to say about each of these books. I’m going funny tomorrow. Click here to check out the Write 31 Days Challenge. Click the button below to see all of the posts in my Best Books Ever series.

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You Gotta Think Positive

When negative thoughts rise within him, Sweetboy needs as many hands on deck as possible to redirect him towards hope. Sometimes, my earnest hugs and feeble words don’t come close to touching his darkest thoughts. Or, it might be a day where my mood might be a tad bit darker than his, making it even harder to help him move toward joy.

But God…

He provided me with Sweetman, who can pick up where I leave off. And He also saw fit to give us Sweetgirl, who carries hope in her pocket every hour of every day.

It’s within the safety net of home that we are able to be helpers to each other. We find ourselves dancing around each others’ moods with just the right steps. And we come to know which moves to use under what circumstances, the longer we have had to be in each others’ presence.

I’m grateful that Autism touches our family. It forces us to dance to rhythms we might never have chosen. It also teaches us to be patient as we learn new moves.

I’ve been giving negativity a lot of thought, lately; as in, wanting to give it the boot. And, when I read this blog post about the ill effects of negativity, by Michael Hyatt last week, holy cow! My determination to keep moving Sweetboy in positive directions got a major boost.

To that end, Sweetgirl and I made up a chant to help our Sweetboy think more positively. Our little ditty isn’t likely to win any Dove or Grammy Awards, but it surely does help to snap that child’s mind into a better place. And, while he does indeed groan whenever we fire it up, we’ve started hearing him hum it to himself as he bounces around the house, once in a while.

“You’ve got to think POSITIVE, POSITIVE, POSITIVE! And only think the BEST, the BEST, the BEST!”

(I totally stole that from God. In Philippians 4:8. Where He directs us to think about only the things that are good and worthy of praise.)

Progress – that’s all any of us can hope for as we go along. Certainly not perfection. There was only One who was perfect. And He longs for us to keep moving forward, inching our way as we crawl on our bellies, some days. But, moving forward, nonetheless.

One way to keep taking steps in the right direction is to keep our eyes on all that is good. Another way to do that is to surround ourselves with folks who look for the best in a situation. I see us, Sweetgirl, Sweetman, and me, as those people for our Sweetboy.

And, I pray God continues to surround him with those people outside of our four walls.

Ahab always told us to “plan for the worst and hope for the best”. Solid advice, that.

And I’d add, you gotta think positive!

Yes indeedy!

Let Me Tell You

“Who are you voting for, mama?” This is a question that the Sweetkids like to ask every November. In this house, we care about politics. And, although I’m not going to tell you who, let me tell you why.

Because, I am firm believer in the process.

Because, I believe that all people in this country are entitled to a say.

Because, I’m an eternal optimist.

Because, “I Voted” stickers!

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The only way to triumph over the injustices you see happening in the world is to do something about it. For some of us, one of the most powerful things we can do about it, is to vote about it.

So, in this house, we do.

Ahab loves to engage in political discussery. (The word shall stand!) His passion for political issues trickled right on down to me. Passion was never more prominently displayed than when Ahab had A Word about an issue.

The man had, and has, ‘a word’ often.

About many an issue.

Recently, he sent me one of those “forward” emails about where the words “right” and “left” came from. A friend had forwarded it to him. He found it worthy of passing on to me. (And that is how those abominable forward emails persist.)

Ecclesiastes 10:2 was provided as food for thought, in this one.

A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
    but a fool’s heart to the left.

I reminded Ahab, in a non-fireworks kind of way, I assure you, that anytime one of those “forward” emails are sent, I trash them.

“WHY?!? Why would you do that without even looking at them,” he asked.

Let me tell you why.

Because, although he and I will discuss an initial idea into the ground, most people read one of those blasted things and make all sorts of assumptions. Without any further verification or research.

Yes, the verse says that Right does good and Left goes wrong. Yes, it’s Biblical. Yes, I believe the Bible is True.

That’s where my agreement with the original writer of the email ends.

Immediately after reading it, I went on a search to find out what the original Biblical text meant by the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ (because, although Solomon was wise, he didn’t invent the political two-party system). I found something interesting. The original intent of the word “right”, in the context of this passage of scripture has to do with dexterity. Dexterity!

To be clear, what Matthew Henry noted in his commentary (and I love me some Matthew Henry! If it was good enough for Charles Spurgeon, it’s good enough for me.) was the mindfulness with which a wise person goes about the task at hand. Back in King Solomon’s time (the writer of Ecclesiastes), most folks used their right hand to accomplish an end with mastery and skill. Lefties, I’m sorry. This implies that the left-handed were wayward in their abilities.

Forgive them Father, they did not know.

I’m married to a lefty. He is brilliant. #notbiased Handedness doesn’t decide who is wise.

How in the sam hill does any of this connect with voting?

I’m not blindly following along with what’s emailed handed to me. I’m not listening to the attack ads, reading the propaganda, jumping on a bandwagon. The Creator endowed me with a mind.

I choose to use it, as I explore what it means to love God and people with every bit of it.

So, let me tell you why you should vote.

Taking the time to delve into the issues, that will indeed affect us all at some point, is wise.

Casting your ballot, whether to the right or the left, or somewhere in the green, honors the God who gives authority to governments.

Showing up to vote, models an interest in your community and the laws and leaders that affect them.

You, my friend, were created with a mind. Use it.

Go Vote!

When I was Seventeen

I graduated from High School. (You’re going to have to put that sentence together with the title, folks. Otherwise, you’re going to think I’m making a grand pronouncement that happened nigh on 25 years ago.) I’d only been driving for a year, as you have to wait until 16 to get your driver’s license, down in FLA.

Full of myself, I thought I knew most of everything. (Knowledge, where for art though, now?)

And then, I left for college.

Seventeen, and utterly ignorant. Of much.

The University of Alabama was kind enough to allow me entrance. A student with the most un-studious of habits. The Gamma Phi Beta House became my home away from home. Fraternity Row became my neighborhood. The Varsity became my kitchen.  Bear Bryant stadium, my backyard.

College life hummed along pretty nicely for about 3 months.

Until I came home with my first semester’s grades.

A whopping .33!

You did not read that incorrectly. There was, indeed, no number in front of that decimal point.

And Ahab gave me The Talk. In a very matter-of-fact way, he shared that not going to college was no skin off his back and that the only one I’d be hurting was myself. He asked me to take the next couple of days to think it over and come to a decision.

And then he directed me to pull weeds out in front of his shop for 6 hours.

In the heat of the South Florida sun.

That will help clear the weeds from your head.

If it doesn’t kill you first.

I can tell you one thing I decided for sure, I didn’t want to pull weeds anymore.

And, I also knew I wanted to head back to college.

I got my head screwed on straight, put my nose to the grindstone, and any other cliche` I could possibly throw in there, and got it done. By the time I graduated, I had made the Dean’s list many times over.

Yay me!

But, no.

Because, in the midst of it all, I met The One.

The Hope Restorer.

He gently nudged my heart into a rhythm of grace. He brought precious friendships into my life to remind me that He was everywhere I was. And He pursued me, relentlessly.

I clung to Him.

Until, I started to think I could do it all on my own, again. And I pushed Him out, becoming more open to falling from Grace.

Which I surely did. And landed with a thud.

But, Grace stays close.

I can see that now.

His hand through other hands which ministered to the bruised spots from landing so hard. Soothing words that healed and gave hope.

When I was seventeen, I thought I knew it all.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Grace had so very much to teach me.

And still does.

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This post is day 17 in the Write 31 Days challenge.

To those of you reading along, thank you!

What Lurks Beneath

In honor of the close of “Shark Week”, and, For Captain Ahab and my family – blood and other.

My brother is brave.  Military, kinda-brave.  I’ve not seen him shaken up but once in my life.

On our illustrious Bimini trips, all of us kids would take turns jumping off the docks into the crystal clear blue waters of the marina.  That water was stunning.  I didn’t realize it then, but the pure joy of jumping into water that you can see clear through to the sandy, starfish and sand dollar strewn bottom of, was a gift.  We took it for granted.

Youth is wasted, and all that.

We also took for granted that there would ever be anything in that water that could hurt us.  The marina felt safe.  It was a haven, not only for the boats that would make the trek over from South Florida for their various fishing and diving ventures, but for us kids, too. We knew only safety in the incessant jumping in and climbing out of those waters.

One of the most majestic sea creatures that you could ever encounter are the giant Manta rays that glide through the waters of the Bahamas.  They are massive.  And docile. But, massive.  The “babies”, alone, are from three to five feet across.

One fine afternoon we all ran down the dock, taking turns jumping into the crystal waters.  When it was my brave brother’s turn, wild and reckless, even at 8 years old, he took a gigantic flying leap out into the marina. And promptly walked on water right back up onto the dock.

We all came running to look down and see what could possibly instill fear of that magnitude in my brave brother’s heart. Four gargantuan Manta-rays gracefully passing through held us transfixed.

It took a couple of minutes for my brother to get his color back. And, you can be sure that we all looked before we leaped from then on out.

We would also waterski everywhere when we were in the Bahamas. If the boat could fit into the area and the stretch was long enough to get a decent run in, then we would go for it.

From time to time, we would actually have one of us in the water getting skis on and ready, while someone else was making a run. If we were the one waiting to be taken on a run, we’d sometimes have to wait for 5 minutes or more for the boat driver to circle back around.  Once in a while, if it wasn’t shallow enough to stand, we’d just lay on top of our skiis until it was our turn.

And so, one cloudy day, that was me.  Bobbing around on top of the skis waiting to be picked up. Happily.

Until I saw a fin. At fifteen, I was plenty old enough to know that all of the many sharks we had seen over the years had been incredibly kind to mind their own business.  I knew how much pain a shark could inflict. I started to breathe in and breathe out, keep my eye on that fin, and pray to hear the motor of the boat approaching.

The fin seemed to be about 40 or 50 feet away.  I still have no idea. I’m not very good at gauging distances, and even less so when I think a shark is eye-balling my person. I decided at some point to just lay on top of my skiis, stop watching the fin, and hope for the best.

And about that time, I was so zoned out that I completely missed the approach of the boat. I only knew rescue had come because Ahab had reached down and pulled me up into the boat, all calm-like.  No one said a word and we hustled back to pick up the other skiier.

But I’ll tell you this – I never offered to be the sitting duck again, I’ll tell you. Oh no I did not.

And we were all more aware of what lurked beneath.

Oh, yes indeedy.

He Calls Me Pooh

We have always had the kind of father-daughter relationship that I know so many longed for.  And, I don’t take it for granted.

Fights were fierce because we are both fiercely independent. (The apple never does fall far, does it?) And, we were a lot alike in our thinking.

Still are, really. Black and white ain’t got nothin’ on us.

The Nana used to say of me, “You walk like your father and talk like your father!” I always took it as a compliment.

But, the most beautiful part of our interactions came during the times of crisis.

Feeling ugly:

“Aw, Pooh, you’re the most beautiful girl to me.”

Being on the verge of dropping out:

“Aw, Pooh, the only one who can make this decision is you.”

Not telling the truth and getting into trouble with the law:

“Aw, Pooh, why do you have to make things so hard?”

Broken relationships that nearly broke me:

“Aw, Pooh, people will come and people will go – but you’ll always have your family.”

And, of course, the one period of my life that darn near broke him – the dreaded tween years when I didn’t want to hug and kiss “my dad” anymore…

“Aw, Pooh, I understand.”

To the man who brought me up, bailed me out, and boosted my spirits; the man who showed me how to hunt, fish, and love; The dad who taught me to be brave, shoot for the moon, and not give up; to the man whose stances I’ve watched soften, hair I’ve watched greying, and faith I’ve watched grow…

Happy Father’s Day!

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To the man who calls me Pooh…

I love you.

He’ll Catch it, But He Won’t Eat It

He loves the thrill of the chase and can outmaneuver even the most slippery among them. He can find them in the deepest depths of the ocean. And, he’ll help you reel them in over many long hours of give and take.

But, he will not, I repeat, he will not eat them.

My brother, the Boat Captain.

Who doesn’t eat fish.

You want to take a fishing excursion to catch some delectable white flesh King Fish?  He’s your man.

You want someone to cook it up to artistically cubed perfection? He’s your man.

You want someone to pull up a chair at the table and enjoy it with you?

He’s not your man for that.

One of the things I most admired about this kid, who slept in the bedroom next to mine, was his ability to hear adventure calling so easily. He’d climb right on out of that bedroom window, without a backward glance, and go find it!

And as The Captain of many a boat over this past decade and a half, he’s had lots of adventures.  I love to hear about every one.

I raise my fish-laden fork to my brother, who turns the big 4 – 0 today.

May forty bring a renewed Spirit of Adventure.

And wrinkles.

May it bring you a ton more wrinkles than me.

Yes indeedy.

I love you, Kid.

Happy Birthday!

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Happy Mother’s Day

Struggling to make sense of your relationship with your mother is a tale almost as old as time itself, isn’t it?

I have good news for those of you who are still in the midst of the struggle: there may come a time when you don’t.

I know it’s possible.

My mother and I have a mutual respect and a deeper love for each other, now, than I ever thought possible.

She means more to me than I could ever have imagined she would.  Much more.

That, in and of itself, is a gift of epic proportions.

So, to my mama…

Mama, I know that Ahab often gets the credit for instilling a love of The Ocean in us kids. But, I give a lot of that credit to you, too. It was you who packed us up, religiously, each and every Saturday, to head to the beach for the day. You, along with the three other mothers in our Beach Family, and enough cold tuna noodle casserole, Cheezits, and Crystal Light Iced Tea to feed an entire classroom full of children, would herd us 8 children into vans and onto the hot sand with promises of hours of unfettered free time.

I felt the most free when we were at the beach each Saturday.  You allowed me to run and swim and play and eat Cheezits until you thought I’d turn into one. And, although I now understand (OH, how I understand!) that in doing so, you also were getting some much needed breathing room yourself, I never felt more loved on than when you would allow me to just be me at the beach.  There were no comments of being ladylike, eating less, or being more like so-and-so. No. None of that. You packed us up and took us to the place where we could all get out and blow the stink off.  And you showed your love in that one act.

I am so grateful for your willingness to take us out there for fresh air and sunshine.

Grilled cheese sandwiches, with the cheese blackened on the top, are still a favorite of mine to this day.  Those and the chicken noodle soup that always accompanied it, were the only things I really remember about the times I was sick. And, I remember you lovingly (and maybe with more than a hint of frustration on the tenth and twentieth times) putting the socks back on my hands, to keep me from scratching at the chicken pox that covered my body when I was six.

I am so grateful for your tender loving care.

And I also look back on all of your attempts to take us on mother-daughter trips with a softer perspective. You desperately wanted me to want to go – shopping, out to lunch, to a movie. I can see, now, that you really just wanted us to have opportunities to do things together.

And, I’m so grateful that you tried.

I love you mama.  It took me an awful long time to realize that I am, indeed, blessed to call you “Mom”. And I want you to know how much I look forward to every new memory we carve out together in the future.

Happy Mother’s Day!

When There Are Weeds

Gardening isn’t something that I’ve ever enjoyed.  I blame Sundays.

Growing up, I could count on the following four things happening every. single. Sunday.

First, church.  Next, change into swimsuits as soon as you get home and head outside to begin an hour or two of grueling yard work in the sizzling balmy South Florida sun. Thirdly, end the agony by jumping into the swimming pool; and finally, follow it all up with soup and sandwiches on the patio.

Every Sunday.

Like clockwork.

Only, yard-work.

As you can imagine, I learned a few lessons.

The first one left scars.

If we didn’t get out there and start all the weeding and what-not before the scorching Florida sunshine was fully ablaze, we’d find ourselves turning into crispy critters.  And I did – on far too many occasions. As my handful of burnt off pre-melanomas proclaim. Putting sunscreen on, before heading out, always seemed like such a waste of time.

I’ll tell you what was wasted – my youth!  Ol’ Georgie Bernard Shaw had it right.

I also learned that Sandwiches taste better after hard work. That was an easy one.

But, the lesson that has really grown a life of its own, has to do with weeds.

If you’ve ever pulled weeds, you can probably agree that weeding is not for the weak.  There are some that require more than a short quick yank, to remove. Some weeds require a full-on excavation! They’ve got to be worked over with a spade, cajoled and wiggled,  and maybe even wrung out with an extra pair of hands.

Sometimes, though, when time is tight and hands are scarce, those weeds start growing like crazy cakes. I say things like, “Oh, I’ll get to them next week,” and “Two weeks off isn’t gonna hurt much.” As long as those weeds aren’t eye-level and I can tamp them down with each footfall toward what I’d rather be doing, it’s no problem. Excuses pile up and before I know it, the weeds take over.

There are weeds in my life that have grown far too tall for me not to notice anymore.  And some of them have become downright thorny!

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Self-discipline may indeed be a Spirit that we’re promised to be given, but I was starting to wonder if a little less was sprinkled on me.  Maybe the Self-discipline dispensary was near to empty?  I don’t know.

What I do know, is that sometimes, I really have to dig deep to force myself to do things that I know I should be doing. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that I need to call on that self-discipline that I’ve been promised.

Exercise. Wiggle, cajole.

Ordering the egg-white wrap instead of the donut. Extra pair of lips to talk me down.

Spending daily time, quietly meditating on God’s Word – or even just thinking on all that I have to be thankful for! Get that spade – I need to dig!

Looking back, I think Ahab had it exactly right. Put God first, family time next (even if it was in the form of torture yard work), and play to follow.  I’m even thinking that the eating had its proper place right there at the end, too.

So, if you’ll excuse me, there is some weeding that must be done around here.

But first, please pass the sunscreen?

Always More Grace

Raise your hand if you knew what you wanted to do when you headed into college.

(Admit it.  Some of you started to raise your hand.)

I wasn’t among you lucky ducks that had it all figured out.  In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to figure it out, at all.  I just knew that there were parties to attend “in college” where there was no curfew, and no one would be waiting for you to get home to make sure you hadn’t broken any rules.

I never did, of course.

Except that one time.

And I never looked at wine coolers the same way again.

Ahab had a way of exacting discipline that involved no hands and no harsh words at all.  Just a lesson.

And you learned it!

Oh, yes you did.

In fact, the wine cooler lesson was a doozy.  At a ripe age, below the legal drinking one, I decided to imbibe.  It was a Friday night and I always followed the rules.  But, not this time! Oh no! I was gonna cut loose and live it up.

Except, I forgot that Ahab and I had planned a special father-daugher reef dive for that following Saturday morning.

And, if you’ve ever read any Ahab stories, you already know that means we were to be up and attem’ at an ungodly early hour.

Also, that you stick to a plan, come hell or high water.  And sometimes, it was only the high water that kept us from keeping it.

So, as I unlocked the door an hour later than curfew, clearly smelling of rule-breaking-behavior, he had only one question.

“Is your alarm set?”

I’m fairly certain that his eyes had a twinkle in them as he asked.

“I’m not sure I’ll be up for getting up at 5:30 tomorrow morning, Dad,” I warned him.

“Oh, you’ll be up,” he promised.

And that’s how it rolled.

As well as my stomach.

Every foot of boat chop that we pounded across that morning, on the way out to our dive spot, my stomach railed at me for the previous night’s activity. And he knew it.

I survived.

Barely.

But I can assure you – the lesson sank in.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  I remember hearing that once or a thousand times.

And God parents me much the same way that Ahab did.  He loves me despite.  He disciplines me even when it’s going to hurt him to see me in pain far more than it will hurt me to be disciplined.

And He gives.

Knowing that I can never give back as much. And that sometimes, I won’t even remember to give thanks.

Today, though, I find myself grateful.

Grateful for the grace galore that He heaps on me.

Grateful for another day to get up and breathe deeply and commit my way to Him.

And grateful for the opportunity to love my children the way He loves me.

Knowing, of course, that when I fail – because, I will – there will always be more grace waiting for me.

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